Ah, one of the most frustrating pre-merger airline practices is about to begin — cross-fleeting! That’s when a merged airline isn’t yet flying under the same operating certificate, yet they deploy planes on each others routes.
Well, all must be well in the Continental and United world, as they’ll be starting this practice pretty soon. Come February, Continental will operate a new service between Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, Chicago and West Palm Beach, and Denver and Fort Lauderdale. Now in fairness United hasn’t operated any of those routes for several years now, so it’s not that they’re directly “stealing” a route from United, but that doesn’t make the practice any less frustrating. What’s frustrating is that this route is obviously targeted at United flyers, yet Continental elites will trump United elites when it comes to upgrades, and in the meantime us United flyers won’t be earning lifetime miles, etc.
Just to be clear, I’m not picking on Continental. The same is true at United. United will start operating a daily flight between Houston and Lima on their high density 767, which otherwise flies exclusively domestically. This flight is over 3,000 miles, and this is probably the most uncomfortable aircraft in the United fleet, though there might be one slight positive. The flight is currently operated by a Continental 757 featuring 16 BusinessFirst seats, which is of course exponentially better than the aircraft United will operate on the route. However, they market the flight as a BusinessFirst route, meaning Continental elites don’t receive complimentary upgrades on this route. You have to use miles and pay a hefty co-pay to upgrade.
I’d be willing to guarantee that this flight will now be eligible for complimentary upgrades. So while this is a huge downgrade in terms of the premium product, unless you were paying for business class, this is probably an improvement as an elite (then again, I’m not convinced first class on the domestic 767 is that much better than coach on Continental’s 757s, given that they have audio and video on demand). That being said, United 1Ks and Premier Executives will still trump Continental elites on the upgrade…
I’m certainly not looking forward to more and more cases of cross-fleeting. Fortunately this should no longer be the case by the time 2012 rolls around and the airlines are under a single operating certificate with a single frequent flyer program.